Canadian-born puppeteering brothers Marty and Sid Krofft have had their hands in seemingly all aspects of the television production business for more than 45 years.
Not only did the duo create some of the most imaginative live-action kids series from the ’70s and ’80s, including H.R. Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost, The Bugaloos, Electra Woman & Dyna Girl and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, they were also a force in the amusement park biz with Six Flags and they produced a string of successful primetime variety shows including The Donny and Marie Show and The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.
Now, at the spirited ages of 78 and 86, respectively, Marty and Sid Krofft have ventured back into the children’s TV spotlight with their brand-new Emmy Award-nominated Nickelodeon series Mutt & Stuff, which features TV’s famous dog whisperer Cesar Millan, his 16-year-old son Calvin, 23 real dogs and Calvin’s larger-than-life best friend, Stuff.
Despite a 15-year gap since the debut of their last kids show, a reboot of the classic Land of the Lost series, the Krofft brothers’ charm and creativity continues to resonate with today’s youngest generation and their parents, who themselves were likely raised on classic Krofft programs.
After becoming the highest-rated series in its 10 a.m. time slot in all of kids TV in the last quarter of 2015, Mutt & Stuff was recently renewed for a second season. In addition, the Kroffts are entering the digital space for the first time with two upcoming remakes: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters for Amazon and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, which stars YouTube stars Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart for MCN Fullscreen. Feature films based on H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters are in the works, too.
The list of current credits is exhaustive─and Marty Krofft says he only has more to give. He spoke with Kidscreen about career longevity, creating content for digital platforms and the joys and challenges of working with his brother.
You’ve experienced the birth of television and the rise of modern digital platforms like YouTube. How have you managed to survive?
I was over at Paramount yesterday pitching Pufnstuff as a movie and someone asked, ‘How have you stayed in business this long because it might be a miracle.’ I said, ‘There are only two companies left that have never sold out. One of them is an elephant, Disney, and the other is a flea, and that’s Sid and Marty Krofft.’
Your production output throughout the ’70s was impressive. What was the secret to getting through that period?
We put more on the screen than anybody, but we also lost more money than any other production company. Fortunately we had the puppet shows at Six Flags. When we got Pufnstuff, it was the biggest thing that ever happened to us, but we almost went bankrupt. We got US$54,000 an episode from NBC, and it cost us US$100,000 per episode to make, so we were self-funded. It’s a miracle we have been able to survive.
How do you feel about having three new children’s series on the go?
I can’t believe we’ve got more going than ever. But you know what, my father said, ‘Never, ever give up because if you give up on Tuesday, there is no Wednesday.’ Nothing happens overnight. The biggest challenge with Mutt & Stuff was getting it on the air. It took four years.
How has the jump to digital been working out so far?
The move from doing cable and network to digital has been easy, because the bottom line is that I don’t find kids today are that different. If you give them great stories and characters you can make it on digital. We also need to work with executives who grew up with our stuff. At Amazon, there’s Roy Price who runs it. And we’ve known Tara Sorensen forever. I knew Price’s father, Frank, who ran Universal and Sony. If you live long enough you know a lot of people. And we’re grateful. They call us legends, but that’s until you talk to my three daughters.
Speaking of family, how would you describe your personal and working relationship with your brother today?
We’ve lasted longer than most marriages, and it’s a good relationship most of the time. If he was around with me all of the time, I don’t know what would happen. Part of our deal is people love to interview both of us. When we go to a pitch meeting, you’re supposed to be arguing with a network person, but we end up arguing with each other. We have a good act going.
What advice do you have for the next generation of puppeteers or kids producers?
I don’t think I have the right to give them advice, but I can share with them my experiences, my strengths and my hopes. Once they have that they can take the best and leave the rest.